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Filly Rachel Alexandra conquers the Preakness

BALTIMORE — Her previous owner refused to enter her in the Kentucky Derby, believing it was unseemly to race a filly against a field of muscular colts.

Last week, after her new owners put up the $100,000 fee required to get Rachel Alexandra an 11th-hour berth in the second leg of the Triple Crown, rival owners tried to block her entry.

Saturday, Rachel Alexandra showed them.

After a slight stumble at the start, the 3-year-old thundered on to become just the fifth filly to win the Preakness and first in 85 years.

Only Mine That Bird, who won the Kentucky Derby as a 50-1 shot, proved remotely her equal. For the second time in as many races, the gelding mounted a charge down the final stretch to close within a length. This time, he ran out of track.

Musket Man finished third, as he did in the Derby, followed by Flying Private and Big Drama.

The outcome was never in doubt to Calvin Borel, the jockey who made history by passing on the opportunity to follow up his Kentucky Derby victory atop Mine That Bird in the Preakness.

Borel insisted on riding Rachel Alexandra, who had won his heart long ago. They had won five consecutive races against the country's top females by a combined 43½ lengths, including a 20-length rout at the Kentucky Oaks on the eve of the Derby. So if Rachel Alexandra was going to compete against the boys at Pimlico, Borel was determined to be on board.

"I'm paid to win races," he said. "And I knew she was going to win. All along, I knew she was the best horse to ride."

And together, they covered the 13/16 miles in 1:55.08.

"She's the best horse in the country, bar none," Borel said.

Now Borel will get a shot at a personal Triple Crown if Rachel Alexandra goes on to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks. The 1½-mile race is the most grueling of the three.

"I'm not worried about nothing," Borel said. "It's going to take a racehorse to beat her."

Asked if he planned to enter Rachel Alexandra in the Belmont, owner Jess Jackson said he would look to the horse for the answer.

"The horse always tells you whether they're ready," Jackson said. "We'll wait for three or four days and see how she comes out of the race. Would we love to race? Yes. Could she win? We think so. We've already shown she can run with colts."

The 9-5 favorite stumbled slightly leaving the gate then stuck her head in front at the first turn and didn't give way.

Her first challenge was to get rid of Big Drama, a persistent presence from inside down the backside and into the final turn. Once she shook him loose and opened up a 4-length lead at the top of the stretch, Mine That Bird made a run at her.

Borel sensed she was tiring and took firm hold of the reins.

"I had to put the bit in her mouth because she was kind of struggling," he said. "It kind of took a lot out of her."

In the end, the filly won by a length in her first race against the boys.

"I'm thrilled to death with the race my little horse ran," said Chip Woolley, who trains Mine That Bird. "You have to give that filly credit. She's a great one."

A great one who was as big as most of the horses she beat.

"Gender doesn't matter," said Jackson, 79. "A thoroughbred wants to run! If a filly is as good as the colts, she ought to compete. That was my position, and that's why we came."

This ending was far different than the last time a filly challenged the boys. Eight Belles finished second in last year's Kentucky Derby then broke both front legs while galloping past the finish line and was destroyed on the track.

This time, it was all cheers. No tears.

"Awesome," said Bob Baffert, who trains Pioneerof the Nile, who finished 11th.

"Rachel Alexandra is amazing. She took the heat and kept on going."

Filly Rachel Alexandra conquers the Preakness 05/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 16, 2009 11:02pm]
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